By Staff Writer
Therapists rely on compassion to help individuals overcome problems. They offer a non-judgmental ear, complete evaluations, and prescribe non-pharmaceutical treatments. Due to the nature of these job responsibilities, empathetic individuals who want to help others often succeed as therapists.
The job outlook for therapists looks promising. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), marriage and family therapists earned a median annual salary of $49,610 in 2019. The BLS projects jobs for these professionals to grow 22% between 2018 and 2028. The BLS also offers data for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors. These counselors earned a median annual salary of $46,240 in 2019. The BLS projects jobs for these counselors to grow 22% between 2018 and 2028.
Becoming a therapist takes time. To practice, therapists must earn a master's degree and complete clinical hours before earning a license. Given this commitment, individuals should learn as much as they can about the profession before enrolling in a program.
Read on to learn how to become a therapist.
Therapists work with clients on a one-on-one basis or in group settings. They often speak with individuals in person, although some therapists host video conferences with their clients. Certain therapists help individuals enhance their relationships with family members or partners, while others focus on helping people overcome addictions or anger issues.
Therapists do not prescribe medication. They can prescribe other treatments, like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, for clients with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Therapists typically work full time, although they may work part time in some cases. They often perform duties during normal business hours, but certain therapists work during the evening to accommodate more clients. Occasionally, therapists may need to remain on call for emergency phone calls or sessions with their clients.
Typically, therapists find employment in a hospital or private practice setting. These professionals can work as self-employed individuals and set their own schedules by cultivating their own client base.
Therapists can work with any age demographic by earning a specialization. For example, some therapists only counsel children, while others exclusively work with adults suffering from trauma. Therapists can even work with convicted felons in institutionalized settings.
Therapists help their clients make healthy future decisions. They create a safe space for individuals to share personal struggles and empower them to make healthy choices. They also connect their patients with resources such as support group therapy or inpatient rehab.
Prospective therapists need strong organizational skills and a commitment to patient confidentiality. Therapists keep detailed records of sessions and take measures to keep these records private from the public.
Typically, therapists refrain from offering opinion-based advice to their clients. Instead, they work with them to develop strategies to alter their behavior to the desired state and deal with hard situations. Therapists must abide by a code of ethics to keep their licenses.
During a session, therapists take notes and actively listen. These tasks require intense concentration and the ability to quickly process information and respond accordingly. They ask their clients questions to encourage them to reach conclusions on their own.
Since many therapists work in private practice, they often take on the role of a small business owner. As self-employed professionals, they typically conduct their own marketing efforts and perform basic accounting measures. To avoid these extra duties, some therapists seek employment at hospitals or rehabilitation facilities.
Many prospective therapy students look forward to earning their degrees thanks to the field's positive job outlook and rewarding pay.
The BLS reports that school and career counselors earned a median annual salary of $57,040 in 2019. The BLS projects jobs for these counselors to grow 8% between 2018 and 2028. These professionals help students develop the academic skills needed to succeed after high school graduation. They also help them deal with emotional difficulties. School therapists who work in the public school system often benefit from paid summers off.
Psychology is another therapy-related profession with a positive job outlook. The BLS reports that psychologists earned a median annual salary of $80,370 in 2019 and projects jobs for these professionals will grow 14% between 2018 and 2028. These professionals take on a research role for clients, as they observe their cognitive, emotional, and social processes. Just like therapists, they keep detailed records on behalf of their clients.
Graduates with therapy degrees also become substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors. The BLS reports that mental health counselors earned a median annual salary of $46,240 in 2019 and projects that jobs for these counselors will grow 22% between 2018 and 2028. These professionals provide treatment specifically to adults and adolescents suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction. They also help both adults and children with mental or behavioral problems.
The BLS notes that marriage and family therapists earned a median annual salary of $49,610 in 2019 and projects that jobs for these therapists will grow 22% between 2018 and 2028. Marriage and family therapists help their clients heal or cope with relationship issues. They often work with more than one client at a time.
Salaries and job responsibilities can vary. Therapists can increase their earning potential and job opportunities by earning a doctorate. Professionals with a doctorate often charge higher rates. Geographical location serves as another factor that influences salary. For example, therapists located in a large coastal city often charge more per hour than therapists located in a small town in the Midwest.
Experience also influences job opportunity and salary. Seasoned professionals often qualify for higher-paying leadership roles for organizations like hospitals. Self-employed therapists with many years of experience tend to cultivate a large client base, so they can eventually charge higher rates.
Earning additional certifications and licenses can also expand career opportunities and increase earnings. Professional organizations like the National Board for Certified Counselors offer educational resources and certificates to members.
Becoming a therapist takes several years. To avoid the need to switch majors or go back to school to earn a different degree, prospective students should consider whether they truly want to complete all the requirements before enrolling in a program.
Below are four basic steps all professionals in the field must complete before they can practice therapy.
Earning a bachelor's degree in a therapy-related field is the first step to becoming a therapist. Prospective students should only consider schools that hold regional accreditation, as other schools offering master's degrees do not accept bachelor's degrees from unaccredited schools. Prospective students can also read through course descriptions to ensure the curriculum aligns with their desired outcomes and career goals.
Students should consider attending a school based in the state where they want to practice. Many colleges and universities tailor their programs to fit specific state licensing requirements. However, some states participate in reciprocity agreements, meaning professionals do not need to retake licensing examinations if they move to a different state.
Some states allow professionals with a bachelor's in therapy to practice under the supervision of a licensed therapist with a master's degree. As such, prospective therapists can receive on-the-job training while working toward their master's degree. Additionally, many professional organizations offer free webinars for members and can help students connect with and learn from other professionals.
Bachelor's programs in therapy require supervised clinical work. To practice without supervision in any state, future therapists must complete anywhere from 2,000-4,000 supervised clinical hours. During their clinical studies, students apply their new knowledge in a real-world setting with actual clients. Their clinical supervisor offers feedback and helps decide their grade upon completion. Distance learners must complete clinical requirements in an in-person setting. However, if they live far from their college, they can typically earn clinical hours in their own community.
Getting a license is the final step to becoming a therapist. Each state sets its own requirements for licensure, and schools typically align their curriculum to one specific state's requirement. Before taking the licensing exam, candidates must complete approximately two years of supervised experience.
All states require therapists to take a licensing exam. Some states offer their own version, but many accept the Association of Social Work Boards Clinical Examination or the Association of Marital & Family Therapy Regulatory Boards Exam.
To become a therapist, students must complete a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. Some therapists also earn a doctorate. On average, undergraduate therapy programs take four years to complete. A master's degree takes two years, while a doctorate requires four years.
Timelines vary based on enrollment status and credit requirements, but professionals who want to earn the most advanced degree in the field should plan on spending 10 years in school. Therapists can start practicing without supervision after earning their master's degree.
Students who want to complete their degrees quickly should consider online and accelerated options. Accelerated programs allow students to enroll in more credits per semester or quarter and take shorter breaks. Students who need to work full time during their studies can enroll part time. Some schools set time limits on how long students can take to complete their degrees.
Many schools design online programs with busy working professionals in mind. Synchronous online courses feature set class times. Students in asynchronous online courses do not need to attend classes at specific times.
All master's degrees in therapy require clinical experiences. During clinical hours, students engage in supervised interactions with clients. Students can also pursue experience through an internship. Some internships pay a salary.
Due to the clinical requirement, master's programs typically do not require a capstone or thesis. Doctoral students typically complete a dissertation. Upon graduation, learners can submit their dissertations to scholarly journals for publication.
Each college and university creates its own curriculum. Some programs allow students to choose a specialization or concentration. However, due to licensure requirements, many programs feature similar courses.
Therapy degrees typically require an ethics course. This course teaches students how to navigate questionable situations with integrity. In this class, learners read case studies, evaluate possible actions, and predict outcomes.
Students earning a therapy degree also take a relationship course. Relationships play a key role in a client's mental health, and therapists must often help their patients overcome or accept strained relationships. In this course, learners examine the social theories that guide communication between spouses, siblings, friends, and coworkers.
Most therapy programs include a course in social-cultural diversity, which teaches learners about the social traditions and customs that shape human interaction. Learners discover how to mediate problems that can arise from cultural differences.
To successfully practice therapy, learners must know how to assess and diagnose patients. A course in assessment and diagnosis covers various mental ailments and how they can affect humans. Learners discover how disorders impact children, adolescents, and adults.
Most therapy programs include a substance abuse counseling course. During this course, students learn how to help individuals overcome the pattern of drug addiction. This course covers the similarities and differences between forms of addiction, including alcohol and gambling addictions.
Upon completing all the courses necessary for a master's degree and finishing clinical hours, prospective therapists can take their licensing exams.
Therapists often specialize in their practice so they can offer high-quality help to their patients. To cultivate expertise, learners can select a concentration to pursue during their studies.
Students who want to work in an academic setting after graduation can choose a school counseling concentration. This specialization covers topics relating to career counseling and social therapy practices for youth. A school counseling concentration typically involves practicum hours at a public or private school.
Some programs offer concentrations in art therapy. Certain therapists incorporate art therapy into their practice, especially professionals who work with children. Students pursuing this concentration learn the methods art therapists use to encourage clients to visually illustrate their emotions.
Students who wish to work in a drug rehabilitation setting can earn a concentration in substance abuse. This concentration goes beyond the knowledge presented in a foundation substance abuse course. Learners discover what factors influence outcomes in substance abuse counseling and various methods professionals can use in their practice.
A couples counseling concentration prepares students to work as marriage counselors. This concentration teaches students how to facilitate important conversations between married couples experiencing hardships or conflict. Some couples counseling concentrations cover best therapy practices for both heterosexual and same-sex couples.
Most programs also offer concentrations in mental health counseling. Students who pursue this concentration help clients overcome issues like eating disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Concentrations demonstrate a therapist's qualifications for potential clients. As such, students should attend a school that offers their desired concentration. Learners unable to find a concentration that matches their career goals can also earn a specialization through a certification program after graduation.
Succeeding as a therapist requires both hard and soft skills. Soft skills tend to come more naturally to certain individuals than others, but anyone can learn to refine these skills with practice. Useful soft skills for therapists include active listening, communication, and analytical skills. These skills allow therapists to interact with patients effectively and make proper recommendations.
Hard skills tend to be more quantifiable than soft skills. One hard skill therapists must possess includes record-keeping, as they must take detailed notes in a particular format for each patient. Therapists must also know the names of mental ailments and treatments.
Most therapy programs teach students the skills they need to thrive in the practice. However, all therapists spend their entire career refining their skills and cultivating new information through on-the-job experience.
Online therapists need strong technical skills, as they rely on computer software to video chat with clients. Therapists often use software to automate activities in their business. For example, certain software can allow patients to book their own appointments and pay their bills online.
Some therapists take notes during a client session with pen and paper. However, they must transcribe these notes to a digital platform to protect patient information. Therapists must also learn how to back up their patient notes to prevent data loss.
Private practice therapists may need additional skills. Since these professionals run small businesses, they must understand basic accounting and marketing to ensure their business succeeds. Self-employed therapists can also hire employees or contract workers to complete these tasks so they can focus on their practice.
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